Where This All Began
The Napier Hotel was first opened in 1866. The exact history and details of the pub are not easily found today, but historical significance is easily noticed when one visits the pub. The pub’s character and lure can best be described in this text by Fly McTaggart:
Heart or hedonism, the Napier hotel caters to all needs.
As a suburban watering hole that has remained relatively unchanged since your granny was a girl, the locals will tell you it has the best view in Melbourne. And while the punters are probably talking about the majestic Fitzroy Town Hall across the road, they could equally be waxing lyrical about publican Guy Lawson and his seemingly endless variety of Hawaiian shirts. If only he could learn to find as many new jokes, everyone would be happy!
Then again perhaps the view they speak of is the heady mix of poet and politician, millionaire and madman, tatts and tattle-tales. The crowd changes, hourly, daily, monthly, from year to year, but it’s always been the mix that makes the visit worthwhile.
Beers, bogan-burgers and bullshit. The Napier has it all in supersized abundance. Weddings and wakes, loves lost and found – here is a pub that has served as a meeting place and hideout for a generation of inner city drinkers and lives on to tell the tale.
And lest we forget, the Napier is as much a reminder of what we’ve lost as what we still have. It’s floor has been worn down from hobnailed boots and the softest sandshoe. The walls festooned with the ghosts of Fitzroyalty past. You want your pub and your football with soul, here it is. As The Sunday Age’s High Five column recently reminded us, the Napes is a little part of Melbourne that is forever Fitzroy, saying:
”In recent years the links between pubs and AFL clubs have mostly been broken; as Saturday afternoon games disappeared so did the fans’ rituals before and after the game. In some cases even the pubs are gone vale the Duke of Wellington, the MCG Hotel and the Brickmakers’ Arms in Essendon. But in recent years Fitzroy’s Napier Hotel has put some local pride back into the Lions. Tucked away opposite the Fitzroy Town Hall in Napier Street, publican Guy Lawson has fans enjoying a front bar lit in club colours along with plenty of understated memorabilia. It’s where old Lions find a venue free of poker machines and AFL spin, and even the Friday night footy has the commentary turned down so you get a soundtrack more like the outer than a corporate box. Our picture shows the last captain of the Royboys, Brad Boyd, marking the club’s 1996 demise in the front bar. When the Brisbane Lions won the 2001 flag more than 2500 fans descended on “Fitzroy Central”, including many who had vowed they’d never back the merged club. For one night it seemed the Fitzroy footy club lived well, until the next day, when the cup flew north to some place called Coorparoo.”
So fuck Coorparoo! Thank the lord of beer and bluster, red and whine that the Napier remains a repository for the collected wisdom and recollections of its friends and family — the true Royboys of today and tomorrow. So let’s also exalt the footy games where the Napes kicked the Labor in Vain, the cricket matches where Pete Mac saved the day (again) and the bar staff managed to skilfully evict the pub crawlers without incident. Three cheers for the coppers and the real estate agents, the student and the stunted, the casual laborer and the itinerant drunk. All are part of the fabric of Fitzroy and this place.
And on those balmy nights, when the sun streams through the stained glass at the Napier and the punters of varied backgrounds meet to dissect the day, kick back and enjoy imagining that outside nothing has changed for 100 years. For while many of the poems written about the Napier have been lost to us because of soggy drink coasters and one too many pots, the fine art of Australian mateship lives on at our very own front bar. No lesser poet than Henry Lawson captured something of the mood of the comradeship to be found in a pub with his effort: ‘The Glass on the Bar’ …
”And the sunlight streamed in, and a light like a star; Seemed to glow in the depth of the glass on the bar.”
In the depth of your glass, to mates old and new, we’ll see you at the Napes.
In 1996 The Napier was taken over by Guy Lawson – an escaped bandit from Adelaide. Lawson – born into pubs in Adelaide by his father, had previously run the Great Britian in Richmond, The St. Andrews Hotel before assuming the helm at The Napier.
Above picture is Ben Elton at The Napier, whilst shooting his film “Stalk”.
Above picture shows a barman at work whilst a few regulars enjoy a refreshing drink.